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JoAnne Northrup: Tracing Modernism from Bauhaus to Beehive

Published December 3, 2012

Within the contemporary art world a group of artists--including Erwin Redl, Leo Villareal, and Jennifer Steinkamp, among others--explore light, color, abstraction, and movement within a technological foundation. These artists might be regarded as the "black swans" of new media art (Richard Rinehart, 2012) since their work foregrounds the aesthetic, situating their work outside the dominant dialogue surrounding Post-Internet art. So what's the point of making art that resembles Christmas lights, Las Vegas, Disney, 1960s light shows, lava lamps, screensavers, and Star Trek in the 21st century? Doesn't the world we live in have more pressing concerns?

Or perhaps these artists are onto something important. In this presentation, "objective art" will be traced back to László Moholy-Nagy's and Oskar Fischinger's avant-garde films in the 1920s and 30s that probed the nature of perception. A generation later, "expanded cinema" continued to advance the potential of abstract art to reveal human consciousness and provide insight into human experience. More recently, the ubiquity of personal computers has enabled the "black swans" of media art to explore light, color and motion in three dimensions and create immersive environments. And now, as we rapidly approach what some have foreseen as "end times," artists working both within and on the outskirts of the contemporary art world have made further advances, employing formal strategies resembling early Modernism. This recent work references nature and biological networks, incorporates data, and evokes emergent behavior through practices that exist at the juncture of design, technology, science, and contemporary art. Can this work harness technology to enable us to see, hear, and feel the patterns of the natural world as a profoundly aesthetic experience? Or have we simply returned to the 1960s light shows and lava lamps?

Producer Berkeley Center for New Media
Audio/Visual sound, color
Language English
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